Construction projects are not always as straightforward as they seem. In fact, they can be prone to several unexpected issues. Modular construction is a technique that has gained traction because it aims to address the problems often experienced in conventional projects.
Modular construction has several benefits, including its quality, price, speed, safety, and interiors. It solves most of the issues we get from conventional structures. However, it also has some drawbacks, particularly with size and land restrictions, flexibility, financing, and resale value.
There’s more to modular construction than what most people know, and we’ll discuss all of them in great detail. By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of these projects, and you’ll never look at it the same way again!\
What Is Modular Construction?
Before discussing the pros and cons, let’s talk about modular construction and what clients can get from it. It’ll help you establish the baseline knowledge and find out whether it’s the perfect option for you or not.
Modular construction is a construction process that builds every part of a structure in a controlled environment or a factory. It uses the same techniques that we use for conventional endeavors, following the same codes and standards.
The process builds each part—or “module”—of the structure individually. Once it’s complete, the manufacturer will transport these modules to the site. The builder will then be responsible for putting everything together to complete the design.
Every stage of the project remains the same: development, design, construction, and finishing. The only difference with modular construction is that it takes the longest stage off-site to speed up the process. It provides the manufacturer with better control over the production and quality of the modules. This change in the process has led to several pros and cons that you may encounter throughout the project.
Pros of Modular Construction
Modular construction has gained so much popularity over the years because it addresses people’s concerns with conventional construction. Multiple factors can affect the structure you’re building, and it can be challenging to have everything it needs on-site. Here are some of the most significant advantages that you can get from using modules or prefabricated units for your project:
1. Modular Construction Offer Better Quality Structures
In the past, one of the most significant drawbacks of modular construction is quality. Manufacturing of the modules was still in its early stages, leading to substandard structures that can’t compete with traditional on-site projects. As processes became more streamlined and modular construction gained more traction, manufacturers employed stricter quality control over their assembly lines.
Several factors can affect the building’s quality, and most of them are beyond the control of the construction team. For example, the wood used on-site may not be protected from elements that can make it less ideal for the structure. It may not be evident at first, but problems may occur years after its construction due to a small oversight.
Issues similar to this and the continuous improvement in modular construction allowed manufacturers to offer better quality than those built on-site. Since modules are in a controlled environment, manufacturers have a better way of ensuring their quality. They’ve also streamlined the modules’ production, ensuring that their clients will always get the best quality that they can produce.
The only thing that the builder needs is to assemble these modules on-site, leaving minimal room for error. When used correctly, which is almost always the case, these modular buildings may have a longer lifespan than those built on-site.
2. Modular Construction Is Cheaper and More Efficient
When building facilities on-site, you’ll have to spend on materials and labor. Sometimes, the project gets too big that it requires you to have subcontractors and other expenses that can drastically increase the project’s cost. This issue has been the primary reason for the growing popularity of modular construction. Manufacturers have an unfair advantage when it comes to the cost because an on-site facility requires various things, adding to the total cost. Modular construction only needs to produce the same parts, making it more scalable. Since builders don’t need these modules for ongoing construction, they can order materials in bulk, further reducing their cost.
Aside from the modules’ cost, there’s also less downtime when you’re working on modular construction, making everyone more efficient. The longer a project takes, the more expensive it gets. When you’re only working with modules, fewer factors can delay the project, making it even cheaper than traditional construction projects.
3. Modular Construction Is Simpler and Faster
In traditional construction, the builder may decide to source the materials from different suppliers all over the country. Since it provides better flexibility, they’ll take advantage of it to lower the structure’s cost. There’s nothing wrong with it because this practice can be beneficial when done correctly. However, this process also creates opportunities for things to go wrong, so the builder must be conscientious when sourcing the materials.
Modular constructions aren’t prone to this issue because all the modules are coming from one supplier. They already have everything in place, together with the quality assurance that is sometimes impossible with conventional structures. Aside from this, manufacturers already have most of these modules pre-built, arriving at the construction site simultaneously. Building structures need a proper foundation, and on-site construction can’t start without it. With modular construction, you can start building as soon as the modules arrive. Since the builders only need to put the pieces together, they can complete the project within hours or days, instead of spending weeks or months.
All of these factors only make modular constructions much faster and more straightforward. There’s no reason for you to look for and deal with multiple suppliers at the same time because you’re getting the best price for everything that you need for your construction.
4. Modular Construction Isn’t Prone to Delays
Weather is the most significant factor that causes construction delays, whether it’s the transportation of materials, construction of the building, or other facets of the structure built outdoors.
If you’re working on an on-site construction, there are times when you have to postpone everything until the weather improves. It can be a massive drawback for on-site construction because the longer a project takes, the more expensive it gets.
Manufacturers produce the modules for a facility in a controlled environment with the strictest quality assurance possible. When you work on modular construction, weather becomes less of an issue, and everything becomes fast-paced. That’s why clients who are dealing with time constraints often prefer using modules over traditional construction to help them speed up the project.
5. The Flexibility of a Completely New Construction
There’s only one way for anyone to get a traditionally built structure for a price close to modular construction—get an older building. However, there are several issues related to buying second-hand properties, including the cost of repairs. Aside from that, you may not have the flexibility to design these properties the way you want them.
If you opt for modular construction, it’ll be from scratch. It allows you to have everything you want for your building without worrying about the foundation and everything you need to consider when working on a renovation. You can also choose the land where you want your structure. Someone who’s on a limited budget may not have this flexibility because everything is already in place. These things are additional benefits for building a structure at a much lower cost. There will be some limitations to it, but having more freedom with the design and location without going over budget is something many people would prefer.
6. Superior Acoustics and Better Interiors
One of the most significant drawbacks of on-site construction is related to the interiors. In a traditional building, sound propagates through the walls and ceilings, creating reverb or making it less soundproof. Builders often use floating floors to help with noise suppression, but it creates some limitations when designing the interiors.
On the other hand, manufacturers build modules separately. Each module is a structure in itself. When you start putting everything together, it’s less likely for noise to propagate around the place. In turn, it gives you the ability to be more flexible with the interiors. You don’t have to worry about acoustics because it’s an added benefit to using prefabricated modules.
7. Modular Construction Is Much Safer
Most injuries in construction happen on-site and while building sections of the structure. It’s because the workers need to adapt to the varying landscape and requirements of the building. The more work the project needs, the higher the risk of injuries.
Modular construction is much safer because workers only need to attach different modules. They can plan everything accordingly and minimize the risks associated with adapting to the work environment. However, it doesn’t mean that injuries are non-existent with modular constructions. The risk is still there, but far lower than what you’d get from traditional on-site projects.
8. Modular Construction Produces Less Waste
Modules are pre-planned and pre-built, which means that everything you need for the structure will be on the site for assembly. You don’t have to deal with excess materials, which can also drive up the project’s cost. It also allows the manufacturers to be more competitive with their pricing because they can recycle extra materials for another module.
It’s impossible to source the exact amount of materials you’ll need for the construction, and there’ll always be an excess. Many builders order materials in advance because it’ll be cheaper to get them in bulk than to order the materials as needed. That’s why after the construction, it often leaves the site full of excess materials that you can no longer use for the project.
On the other hand, manufacturers of modules work with exceptional accuracy that there’s no room for waste materials. Once you’ve assembled the modules, there will be minimal waste because everything you see on the site will be a part of the building.
Cons of Modular Construction
Despite the many advantages that people can get from modular construction, it’s still not for everyone. In fact, there are still some who’d prefer traditionally built structures because of some issues with modular construction. Here are 8 of the most significant drawbacks that you may have to deal with whenever you opt to use modules for your structure:
9. All Modules for Construction Needs Transportation
The process of putting together all the modules for a structure leads to one huge disadvantage—transportation. It is, perhaps, the single biggest issue that you’ll encounter with modular construction. This one issue can create other problems other than moving the modules from the factory to the construction site.
If you’ve decided to go for modular construction, it may be because it can help you reduce the project’s cost. However, you still need to consider the location of the factory where the modules are coming from. The further it is from the construction site, the more expensive it gets. In fact, there are some instances where transportation, alone, balances out the cost difference between modular and conventional construction.
It’s a crucial factor that you need to consider before opting for modular construction. Remember, the cost is one of the most significant factors that led you to choose modules over on-site construction. So it would be best to pick a local company that can transport the pieces you need for a much lower cost.
10. Limitation in Modules’ Sizes Due to Transportation
Another disadvantage with modular construction is the size limitation, which is also related to transportation. The only way for these modules to reach the site is by using trucks to transport them. In turn, this process limits the maximum size of modules that you can use for the structure.
Wherever the construction is, the maximum size for modules will only be 16 feet (4.87 meters) wide and 75 feet (22.86 meters) long. It’s the size that trucks can carry, so you’ll have to be creative with your design to make bigger rooms or just settle with the standard sizes.
Although it’s still possible to have bigger rooms with modular construction, the process isn’t as straightforward as what you’d get from an on-site construction. These modules are from an assembly line that follows the standard size they have for the modules. That’s why bigger rooms or customized sections may not always be an option.
11. Site Constraints and the Municipality’s Building Code
Modules are almost always rectangular because it’s the most common that we need for most construction. Remember, the manufacturer’s goal is to make the production of modules as streamlined as possible to help drive down the cost. However, it also limits their ability to produce modules that fit various landscapes.
Having a site where you want to build your structure doesn’t mean that modular construction can serve you. Keep in mind the two following factors:
- If your land is irregularly shaped, meaning it’s not rectangular and doesn’t fit the modules, then you can’t use them, regardless of the advantages that you may get from it. Unlike on-site construction that starts from the development stage, modular construction won’t adjust to the shape of your land—if it doesn’t fit, they can’t do anything about it.
- Another factor that you need to consider before purchasing a property is the building code that the municipality has for modular construction. Although it has grown in popularity over the years, local authorities may still prevent you from building one in their jurisdiction.
In the past, people thought that modular structures were inferior products and would think of them as glorified army barracks. It remained a common perception until today, despite the advancement in production and improvement in quality. That’s why there are still restrictions for modular homes in some municipalities.
These are two crucial factors that you need to consider before you even start looking for land. They should come together because even if the municipality allows you to have a modular facility, you still can’t have it if your land has an irregular shape. It’s the biggest reason why many people, despite knowing its advantages, still can’t start building a modular facility.
12. Cost of Acquiring the “Perfect” Land
When planning a modular construction, you need to have the “perfect” land where the modules fit perfectly. Remember, modules aren’t produced based on what a particular client needs, but based on what most people need for their projects. This compromise makes it possible to drive down the cost far lower than what on-site constructions can compete with.
Unfortunately, picking the perfect land for modular construction can often be more demanding and more expensive than purchasing land and developing it for the facility. This factor can be a massive deal-breaker for many people because, in some cases, it makes the overall cost of modular construction even more expensive than conventional buildings.
Using modules may be cheaper than conventional facilities, but it has several requirements that may not be necessary for on-site construction. There are even some cases where the perfect land for modular construction is an area that doesn’t have an existing sewerage system.
Getting a perfectly shaped land can force you to take on sophisticated land development. These procedures can push the cost of such endeavors higher than what you might expect.
Before you consider modular construction, make sure that you already have perfect land for pre-built modules. The municipality should also allow the construction of such facilities. It won’t be easy to find the “perfect” land that can serve you well, and sometimes, it can be costly.
13. Lack of Customization and Flexibility for Structure
When building a structure, one of the most crucial stages is design. It’s when the client decides how the facility should look like, its features, and the size for each section. Each part of this facility should meet the client’s needs and wants—something that isn’t available when you opt for modular construction.
Even the slightest change in the design, such as electrical outlets’ placement, will be difficult. In fact, making these changes after the modules leave the factory will only compromise the structure’s integrity and may not last as long as it should. Each module is pre-built by batch, depending on what the general population needs.
The assembly line won’t adjust to what a particular client needs because it can significantly impact each module’s production and cost. That’s why clients who have specific needs outside what the general population needs can’t opt for modular construction. It lacks the customizability that on-site construction offers.
Unlike an on-site construction where the owner can make changes during the construction, the owner should be clear with everything he wants for the facility even before transporting the modules. The slightest change can offset the difference in cost, and some companies may not even have the capacity to accommodate these changes.
14. Permits & Inspection Issues in State & Local Level
The perception that modular constructions are of low quality and don’t meet building standards also creates more problems when acquiring the necessary permit and inspection. It’s true that in some states, the use of modules for construction isn’t allowed. However, even in states that issues permit for these buildings, local authorities may still prevent you from starting the project.
This issue may vary state-to-state, but it all starts with the perception that modular constructions are of low quality and won’t pass the local standard for buildings. Some authorities may not even proceed with the site-work and simply refuse to accept the state permit. It’s an issue with modular structures that may take a lot of time to address.
As mentioned, most laws about modular constructions were passed when their quality was still subpar. Despite the improvement in the production and quality of modules, these laws remain. There are also fewer reasons for lawmakers to revise it, given that many people are still looking at on-site construction as a superior technique.
15. Loan Processes Aren’t Streamlined
Banks are familiar with conventional structures—buildings that are constructed on-site. When there’s a project in progress, it’s easy for anyone to apply for a housing loan. You can even build these structures by sections to stagger the cost of the project. These options aren’t available for people who are looking at modular constructions.
In many cases, banks won’t approve a loan for modular constructions until it’s complete. Although it also happens with conventional construction, the builder can proceed with the project even if you haven’t paid the full cost. It’s because these constructions take a long time to complete, and they can be flexible when it comes to the distribution of the allotted budget.
Manufacturers of prefabricated units often require full payment before they even send one module out of the factory. Since these are all pre-built, there’s no option for the builder to be flexible. It also takes less time to put the pieces together. That’s why the builder must secure the payment before sending the modules out of the factory.
This unique process for modular construction makes the loan process more complicated than traditional on-site construction. Although manufacturers of these modules can provide a loan, most of them will carry exuberant interests that make it vital for you to convert it into a regular mortgage as soon as the construction is complete.
16. Reduced Resale Value and Longer Selling Time
Aside from the high-interest rates you may have to incur if you take a loan from the manufacturer, modular homes’ resale value may not be as high as what you’d get from conventional homes. There are several reasons for it, but one of the most significant driving factors for it is, again, the perception that modular structures are of low quality. Many people still think that modular homes are of low quality, and they may not be willing to pay for your asking price because of it. Aside from this, the lack of flexibility and customization that they may want for the property in the future makes it harder for many people to pick modular homes.
Besides the perceived low quality, if you are in the market, looking for houses for sale, would you look at houses that used pre-built modules or the ones that were built on-site? Many people would prefer to buy a house built specifically for that area and adapt to what the land requires.
It’s the reason why reselling modular homes may take longer, and the price that you can get from it may not be as good as what you’d get from traditional structures.
Modular construction continues to become a more popular option for many people because of its advantages. However, it doesn’t make it superior to on-site construction. There are still some limitations to it, particularly with the flexibility and constraints in the structure.
Using modules for the structure you want to build allows you to reduce your cost and speed up the project. Still, it only addresses the common issues that most people have for on-site construction. If you have a specific need for your building, modular construction may not be the best option for you.